Real football is finally slated to begin tomorrow night with the meeting of the previous two Super Bowl champions. Instead of doing a division-by-division breakdown, I’m simply going to list the teams in order from 1-32. This is simply my list as we’re not repeating our efforts last year at TAC to do a weekly power ranking poll. I might revisit the list during the mid-season, but for now this is how I see the season playing out. As is done with fantasy rankings, I’m breaking the teams out into tiers.
1. Green Bay Packers: I really wanted to pick someone other than the Super Bowl champs, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that they won the Super Bowl and are getting elite players back from injured reserve. It’s true that Jermichael Finley’s ability to hold up over the season is at least somewhat questionable, and running back Ryan Grant will now be splitting carries with James Starks. But this is a star studded team on offense, and they might just have the best defense in the league. They have the best shot at repeating since any defending champion since the Pats last accomplished the feat.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: There has never been a repeat matchup in Super Bowl history, but again, where is the overwhelming weakness on this team? Mike Wallace has emerged as one of the elite receivers in the game, and even as Hines Ward gets a little bit older, Emmauel Sanders looks more than capable of taking on the #2 receiver roll. The offensive line is perhaps the only roadblock to a return trip to the Super Bowl, but as long as Ben Roethlisberger continues to work his magic behind center, the Steelers should be fine.
3. New Orleans Saints: In a league that so often touts parody it’s funny how the same teams continue to dominate the top spots. The Saints weren’t quite as crisp a season ago as they were in their amazing Super Bowl run. But I think they are ready to dominate the South again, especially with the rest of the division taking a step back.
4. New York Jets: They’ve gone from the team that everybody loves to pick on to the team that everyone loves to hate. Part of it has to do with the perception that they are overrated and part of it has to do with the, err, colorful character of head coach Rex Ryan. I’m not sure replacing Braylon Edwards with Plaxico Burress is a step up, but the hype is deserved.
5. New England Patriots: Lots of people are picking New England’s longest suffering franchise in terms of championship droughts to bring home the Lombardi. This is a very solid team, as usual, but when you look closely at the roster this doesn’t seem to be that impressive a team. Wes Welker isn’t getting any younger, and he’s not going to get a lot of help from what is otherwise a pedestrian receiving corps. The other skill positions outside of quarterback are decidedly meh, and even their defense is good but hardly dominant. So this all naturally means that the Patriots are indeed winning it all.
6. San Diego Chargers: Yes yes, number one offense and number one defense a year ago, and their special teams cannot possibly be as bad. I don’t think there’s a team that is more of a mortal lock to win their division than the Chargers, but that is partially due to the weakness of their division. In the end, the Chargers will go as far as they usually go, but they’ll win a lot of games before ending the season in the usual disappointing fashion.
7. New York Giants: As I type this no doubt Hakeem Nicks has torn an ACL during practice and will be declared out for the season. Someone on the Giants seems to suffer a catastrophic injury every day. But there’s enough depth on the roster that most of the injuries are not really debilitating. Now if Eli shares the fate of his brother, then that is something else.
8. Houston Texans: Even the Cardinals eventually made it over the hump. The Texans appear to have done just enough to improve the defense that they should finally make that first playoff appearance. Then again, if that fluid around Arian Foster’s hammy doesn’t clear out, it might be yet another season of being thisclose.
9. Philadelphia Eagles: What’s that smell? Is that the smell of a good team making a desperate push to get to the Super Bowl by making a bunch of off-season moves that apparently makes them the front-runner? Mmmm, smells tasty. It’s gonna smell even better when the Eagles go the way of every other team that has done the same thing.
10. Atlanta Falcons: This might be a bit unfair of me, and I did consistently say that the Falcons were overrated a year ago even as they marched to the best record in the NFC. Of course they did get blown out at home in the second round, so maybe I was right in the end.
11. Baltimore Ravens: I feel like we’re all living through Groundhog’s Day with this team. They’re a perpetually good t0 very good team that wins about 10 games, but who don’t have quite the star power to push them that deep into the playoffs. I expect more of the same.
12. St. Louis Rams: As Homer (Simpson) once said: “Default! The two greatest words in the English language.” In fairness the Rams should take a step up and win the division not simply because it’s the worst one in football. The Rams could be a 9-10 win team, though it doesn’t hurt that they get six games against their division opponents.
13. Cleveland Browns: That is not a typo. Call it a hunch, but the Browns should take a big step forward this year. Colt McCoy actually displayed some decent ability last year once he got comfortable and didn’t have to play the league’s best defenses week after week. He also has a couple of weapons at his disposal, and the Browns could very well make some noise.
14. Detroit Lions: Another in a run of perpetually bottom-feeding teams that could finally take a step forward. It totally depends on Matthew Stafford’s ability to stay healthy. If he does, then the Lions should be at least a .500 team. If not, well . . .
15. Dallas Cowboys: How ’bout them Cowboys? Meh. Yeah, they upgraded at head coach in mid-season, mainly because any sentient being would have been an upgrade. And now the backwards cap wearing idiot is back behind center. And yet this team is still completely overrated and will be going nowhere again.
16. Chicago Bears: But, but, but Jay Cutler cut back on his interceptions last year, and he totally showed more poise in the pocket than usual. Whatever.
17. Indianapolis Colts: Even with a healthy Peyton Manning for a full season the Colts would barely be a top ten team. With Manning out for at least a few weeks if not more, it’s just difficult to see how they have the tools to stay above water.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Here begins a run of another set of teams: teams that took a big step forward last year but who will take a big step backwards this year. It might not be fair to call the Chiefs’ 10-6 record a year ago soft . . . who am I kidding? Yes it was. Jamal Charles is a beast, but this is a thoroughly pedestrian team. With the Chargers coming back to the front, the Chiefs will be taking a back seat.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I feel moderately conflicted about this one. I like Josh Freeman and think that there are some nice young players on the Bucs, yet I can’t help but feel that they weren’t quite as good as their 10-6 record indicated. They also remain comfortably behind the Saints and Falcons in the division, and will have a tough time trying to get a wild card.
20. Oakland Raiders: Not sure how the Raiders managed to remain competitive a year ago, but then again you take a look and there is some real talent here. Sure Al Davis is all but certifiable, but an offense that has weapons like McFadden and Denarius Moore can score some points. Losing Asomugha, though, will be a big blow for a very mediocre defense.
21. Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck is a nice veteran to have before transitioning to Jake Locker, but I wouldn’t expect big things out of the Titans even with Manning hurt and the Texans ready to choke as always.
22. Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb isn’t Kurt Warner, but he makes Larry Fitzgerald a legitimate threat once again. I’m not wowed by the Cards, but they could sneak up on some people.
23. Washington Redskins: A “dominant” pre-season has the Skins’ faithful running for the kool-aid as always. But their starting quarterback is Rex Grossman. Yes, he once “led” a team to a Super Bowl appearance, but this ain’t the 2006 Bears defense. Still, it appears as though this franchise is finally headed in the right direction.
24. San Francisco 49ers: Hey, remember when they were the most dominant franchise in all of professional sports? If you can recall a time when most people didn’t have cell phones and you had to take your Walkman with you in order to listen to music on the go, you sure remember.
25. Miami Dolphins: Hey, it’s a parade of great teams from the 80s who now completely suck. There are times when I have forgotten that the Dolphins were in the league. They’re not awful, but they’re eminently forgettable.
26. Denver Broncos: And one more from the land of formerly dominant teams. At least Broncos fans will have the occasional Tim Tebow qb sneak to look forward to.
27. Minnesota Vikings: How bad can a team be when they’re taking an aging castoff from the Washington Redskins as their starting qb? Very bad.
28. Seattle Seahawks: Yeah I picked the Saints third, and they won a Super Bowl two years ago. But the fact that they lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs – road game or not – should be hung around the Saints as a sign of eternal infamy. They should even have to wear a Scarlet L on their chests to commemorate the loss. How did the Seahawks win seven games last year, let alone a playoff game? Seriously, I need to know.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Weren’t really headed anywhere with David Garard. They ain’t gonna be any better without him, though.
30. Buffalo Bills: Peter King has expressed his excitement about the Bills throughout the pre-season. Hey, they even added Brad Smith! Yeah.
31. Carolina Panthers: Drafting two eventual bust qbs in back-to-back seasons in the first round – including #1 overall – should set this franchise back a good decade or so.
32. Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer was never the same after getting injured in the playoffs a few years back, but at least he gave the Bengals a fighting chance. Now they’re looking at a 2-14 season. But hey, the owner got to make his point. I’m sure Bengals fans are thrilled about that.